Looking at the world through French eyes

17. Actualité archives 2007

It has become fashionable lately to insult the French. Or perhaps it never really went out of style, I don't know. I'll just jump in anyway, even though I'm sort of in the middle, what with being born on one side while having chosen to live primarily in the other. But no, I don't want to talk about Stephane Dion's dual citizenship. I'm after a newer kind of French news that's a lot more amusing.
That's right: Mr. Dion's French-Canadian citizenship isn't news. I'm not sure when I first heard about it (it could have been during Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's own French citizenship kerfuffle), but when Ezra Levant brought it up again recently my first reaction was slight bafflement. Like, uh, what's the big deal, all of a sudden?

For the record, I don't think a self-respecting country ought to allow its citizens to hold dual citizenship at all. But since Canada does, it seems rather unfair to pick on some dual citizens and not others. Perhaps it wouldn't be such a big deal if Mr. Dion wasn't a citizen of France but of Britain, like John Turner, who was not bothered about his dual citizenship and potentially divided loyalties during his 20-minute tenure as Canada's prime minister.

It's not just the French who suffer from a mild form of tribalism, you know -- though it's hard to beat them on the aggravation front when they go about bashing anglos in a rash but pitifully inept way, as for instance last week, when launching French President Jacques Chirac's long-desired 24-hour news channel France 24.

Mr. Chirac had been pressing for a "French CNN" since at least 9/11. So when the thing was launched last week, monsieur le president was of course on hand to emit deep-sounding noises on the necessity for "un grand pays comme la France" to broadcast its world view -- by definition very different from other people's world views, given France's super-special eyes or something. (You can watch Mr. Chirac's hilarious interview at www.france24.com/france24Public/fr/debats/20061207-Chirac-France-24- visite.html .)

I found it a bit odd. Is there really a distinctively Gallic perspective on, say, planes deliberately flying into buildings or a tsunami destroying Asian villages or European Union rules governing the curvature of bananas? Maybe the dark evil anglo news sources already got to me. After all, France 24's mission statement is "All the news you're not supposed to know." See, there's this Bush-Israel conspiracy and ...

Then I read in a Boston Globe story that "Alain de Pouzilhac, a former advertising executive who heads France 24, said the channel would be editorially independent and nonpartisan, despite receiving about $35 million in startup funds and $112 million in annual subsidies from the French government."

Right. So a news network dedicated to competing with "Anglo-Saxon" news networks by spreading the French point of view using French tax money, broadcasting simultaneously in French and English (with Arabic and Spanish to follow) will not be influenced in its editorial line. Now there's a French concept.

To avoid confusion, I decided that instead of relying on other people's news stories I would go straight to the source. France 24 isn't available in Ottawa just yet. But you can access a lot of what it has to offer for free on its website, [www.france24.com->www.france24.com], including the video, the print version and the English and Arabic translations of news stories and features, which is extremely cool if, like me, you enjoy going around saying you're learning different languages when in fact you're just bluffing. But if you're after breaking news, you'll have to wait.
While poking around France 24 on Sunday afternoon I noticed their "derniere heure" bulletin saying Chilean television was claiming Augusto Pinochet had died. That was the extent of their coverage as of 13:46. So I checked what www.cnn.com had to say and sure enough, there was a complete news story from Associated Press, last updated at 13:37, on a high-profile death that occurred at 12:15. (At 15:00 when I checked again, France 24 had a complete story from Agence France-Presse on its front page.) Perhaps waiting for breaking news is distinctly French; it's certainly exactly what them nasty Anglo-Saxons over at CNN or BBC or Fox don't ask you to do.

I'm not saying my day wouldn't have been complete had I been forced to wait an extra hour to learn that Pinochet had died. After all, he then stayed dead. But when you go into business boasting that you will give CNN a run for its money and annoy the Anglo-Saxons with how superior you are, the least you can do is show up on time.
Otherwise, you'll get insulted.

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